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True Stories by Steve Keely
Hobo Memoirs

 

CLOUDBURST!
1 August, ‘05


How hot is it today?

The slanting rays of sunrise amuse. In early morning, I open the refrigerator and a three-foot Rosey Boa crawls in to wait on the milk shelf for the door. By noon, chipmunks, lizards, ants and bees compete at the gallon waterer. ‘Sting me,’ I threaten the bees, ‘And I’ll kick the Queen’s butt!’

It’s not hot for August 1 in Sand Valley, California - about 110 F. I shoulder a pack and a bee stings me on the penis and flies off. I get tweezers with an attached magnifying glass, find it, pull the stinger and forget the incident. You come here to the end of the world to find that’s how simple you think life can be.

Sand Valley is a desert basin like a round sandbox, crosscut by 10-yard wide dry washes and ringed by 600-foot mountains. Cumulonimbus clouds occasionally butt these and dissipate in the hot target uplift. The skies are not cloudy all day. Rainwater may flow into the Valley, but rarely does a drop fall within the five-mile radius.

In late afternoon, I step from my trailer to hike the largest wash that’s a sandwalk edged by Ironwood, Palo Verde and Smoke trees. It narrows in the mountains to a stubby canyon where thousands of Cicadae buzz. Bees hive up in small caves in the sidewalls. A tailwind spins me and I peer at angry clouds rolling west, an anomaly. Soon the wind almost pushes my face in the wash. Sand pelts the skin like a shotgun and thunder sounds.

In minutes, my world is lightning and water. I veer up a feeder canyon for safety, and thirty minutes later – lost – halt at a budding trickle. Thousands of creases in these hills join into hundreds of tiny dry creeks that fasten into a few major washes into the Valley. The pool in front of my boots becomes a revelation: The answer to how flashfloods start! Yesterday it rained short but hard to saturate the ground. Today the water waits under a baked surface. As rain strikes the shell, it cracks open before my eyes and water oozes to meet the forming trickles. Today’s rain siphons yesterday’s reservoir.

I quiver in the freezing shower but dip into pools where the defiant, hot ground heats the water to bathtub temperature.

At sunset, an hour later, the downpour abates but lightning flashes my way. A bolt hits just behind me. Lost, I take the jungle wisdom of following small creeks to larger ones to civilization. The basic course is downhill. Brimming washes block the path every few minutes: Some I wade and others run too deep or fast.

Out four hours, I drop my shorts to examine the member… It’s swollen triple distal to the sting. Like the Nutty Professor. In a flash, I recognize a set of peaks and drop everything to take a bearing for home. Water flows madly.

Yet the sky is clear and stars emerge. The trailer sits a mile off on the shore of the widest wash in the Valley. I wade through an early desert wash and discover it’s not like fording a river. The cut is ten-yards wide, two-feet deep and swift as an Olympic sprinter at 18 mph. I point my toes upriver to watch for a water surge or floating limbs and start to cross sidestepping. Unforeseen, the current undermines each boot a half-inch per second. I slowly sink in the wash center while submerged limbs entwine my legs so I can’t lift them. Suddenly the tide spins and nearly knocks me downstream where, miles and years ago, a car in the same general wash was swept off and the driver drowned.

I scramble up the far bank and, a quick learner in that starter river, hang the pack in a tree. The trailer is silhouetted a quarter-mile away, yet before it lie three more washes. The first is the size of the last and easily crossed without the ballast by pointing the heels upstream and stepping quickly. The second is wider, deeper and the push almost takes me. Exhausted, I sit at the edge of what’s ahead, the last torrent. And wait.

The moon rises in a star dusted sky with the biggest wash at my toes as a measuring stick. I pull twine from my pocket for a sling to elevate the member and throw it over my shoulder like a continental soldier. Damn the Queen! After thirty minutes, the water ebbs from the toes but is risky. I will discover from the locals that a funnel cloud kissed the Valley, roofs blew off the three dwellings, and the washes ran bank-to-bank.

In an hour, the river is safe and I cross to home.

The next day dawns cool in Sand Valley. The washes dry, the member shrinks, and the Queen’s rage assuredly likewise.

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